13: My Dreamtime – Not the Aboriginal Kind!
23 July 2002
Kangaroos, wombats, emus, koalas and a Pajero! As Gloria pointed out yesterday, we are part of the landscape in our 4WD. Roo’s narrowly escape death by Pajero bullbar and hop to safety in their “animals of the lost ark that time forgot” kind of way, as we zoom across New South Wales, Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territories.
I have now been on the road in SUD, the Pajero for a month. “SUD” is short for “suddenly” – suddenly goes, suddenly doesn’t – that’s Matt’s German humour coming through. But since Gloria arrived, it is easy to gauge her personality by her decision to rename the car “Gina” – end of discussion.
So you can imagine – 1 German who plans our day to the minute, calculates kms, cost, ETA and goals to accomplish at least 2 days in advance; 1 Italian who cannot be rushed, reserves the right to change her mind at whim; who giggles and jokes during the discussion of serious issues, goes off the rails, shouts loudly in confined and/or public places, loses her temper and or marbles, blares the music and then is cute and cuddly all at the same time. And 1 South African, who is not good as self-observation (so please bear with me), but who is impatient, always looking for shortcuts, cracks incessant jokes that neither of the others can understand (very frustrating), is the German-English and/or Italian-English walking dictionary, the translator for unsuspecting Australian locals, and goes quiet during arguments that defy logic (in other words, most arguments between the 3 of us).
Our first stop was Canberra which I described to friends as “about as interesting as a blank piece of paper”. The museum was very good and a good way to escape the freezing cold weather. We also had a lookout from the Telstra tower over the city and beyond. That about covers things to do in Canberra.
From there we wound through the Snowy Mountains and watched with envy as skiers made the most of the snowy slopes. We saw our first live wild grey kangaroos – a pleasant change from the roadkill along the side of the road up until that point. I have yet to see a wombat without tyre tracks through it’s midriff – are they really supposed to be that long and flat?!
Only a few km’s outside Swan Hill is where SUD started to live up to her name. The water pump gave its last ditch effort to get us to a gas station. We were towed into the town and found ourselves a good night’s rest at the town’s only backpacker place – The Pioneer Settlement. Here we found people in olden-day dress to be ever so accommodating and helpful. We stayed in a log cabin with an old bloke from Western Australia. Willie kept the stables at the settlement and he’s done about every job from rounding up sheep on a motorbike to fruitpicking. He had a funny habit of pretending to spit and shake his head – this signified (and I’m guessing) – his surprise/dismay/disagreement at something you said.
One day later and the start of THE BIG FRAY on Matt’s nerves we headed towards Mildura and the Murray Outback. We couldn’t’ resist the pull of the vines in the area (home to the Stanley Winery – yep, never heard of it either – check out your great vintage cask wines – delish!). So we crammed ourselves into a skanky house with about a million other penniless backpackers and the promise of wealth inspired our 5.30am rises everyday.
I started pruning the vines for a killer AU$10/hr (before tax!) and moved on to the more mind-numbing “rolling-on” – the fancy-schmancy name for taking long vines and consistently whacking yourself in the face or eye with them as you wind it pointlessly around a little wire for eight hours a day. But the evenings back at the hostel, although a little subdued and vine-focused at the start, turned into a raucous party every night – proud sponsors, the locally made Stanley wine. Let’s just say we can now fully appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into the making of the wines and of dried fruit, and that these parties were the unofficial “Appreciation Sessions”.
I’d like to believe that after my time there, my ping pong/table tennis prowess is at international competitive standards (along with my wine tasting). The pool competition left me in the dirt however, and the International Cook-off was a huge success! With over 24 different nationalities staying in the hostel, we had an evening of international cuisine. I was stuck trying to figure out how to get a South African dish out of a corner store in Mildura – but I came up with the goods – Pap ‘n Wors (stiff maize meal, tomato gravy and a type of South African sausage), or the nearest thing to it. It was a great evening which ended with a spontaneous Full Monty show in an Irish pub up the drag very close to the time of our wake-up call for “rolling-on” the next day. Actually, working in that comatose state was a whole lot easier.
But if doing the grind all day wasn’t enough – all my dreams were about rolling-on too. And things escalated! Andy, who had the bunk bed below me, said that he listened to my sleep as I talked vine commentary every night. I had to leave before I went mad – so Matt and I hightailed it out of there, now with our Italian representative, toward Adelaide via the Murray Sunset National Park.
We got a little lost (first sign of disagreements to come) and stumbled upon a real-mcoy sheep-shearing shed, got in on the action, interviewed some sheep-shearers… he-he. From there we drove 4WD through the park, passing not a single other car. When it got to nightfall we had reached the pink lakes and bushcamped alongside. Aaaah, a night out in the dead quiet of the Outback, a fire, roasting some spuds and 3 in a tent. This was once we had heavily debated location of the fire, the tent, the car, proximity to the road, where to put the seats, blah, blah. But it was great, and the next day we made it to Adelaide.